IBM has remained an iconic leader at the intersection of business and technology for more than a century by continuously reinventing itself. In doing so, it has been guided by clarity about its role as an enterprise innovation company. This clarity—embedded in its business strategy, culture, and brand message—has kept IBM on the Top Ten list of Interbrand’s Best Global Brands every year.
As the world’s leading business-to-business brand, IBM has remained in the Top Ten, but its position has fallen a couple of notches, reflecting the company’s struggles during its latest major transition. Over the last few years, IBM has shifted its focus to data/analytics, cloud computing, mobile, social, and security. Although these strategic imperatives have grown rapidly, they do not yet represent the lion’s share of the company’s profit, leading to 14 straight quarters of declining revenue.
As the company’s transformation continues, it has introduced a new, branded point of view on the future of technology and business, which it calls Cognitive Business, featuring IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning system, Watson. IBM has pioneered perspectives on the future of technology, about once every decade. With the rise of the Web in the mid-1990s, for example, IBM said that the Internet would be about business, not browsing, and its e-business strategy proved prescient. In 2008, as devices proliferated and computing became extended to all manner of things, IBM presented its vision of a Smarter Planet, empowered by information and connectivity. Now, with the emergence of artificial intelligence with real-world applications, IBM introduces what it calls the third age of information technology: “the cognitive era.”
IBM sees cognitive computing as the engine propelling the organization back to the forefront of technology and business innovation. Watson is, some believe, the most humanlike computer ever built, and its capacity to make sense of the vast stores of “dark” data—80 percent of what we are now generating—could revolutionize entire industries. The first—and arguably most important—industry that Watson is tackling is healthcare. IBM recently launched the Watson Health business unit, and has systematically made acquisitions, hired top talent, and formed key partnerships to build this division. IBM and CVS announced a partnership in mid-2015 that could change the way patients, practitioners, and pharmacists give and receive care. The company has also partnered with major oncology researchers—from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to MD Anderson, Cleveland Clinic, and New York Genome Center—to tackle the lofty goal of curing cancer.
The technology behind Watson is enhancing IBM’s capabilities across the organization. Three cloud-based services announced in 2014—IBM Watson Discovery Advisor, Watson Analytics, and Watson Explorer—have contributed to a 70 percent revenue increase in cloud computing in the first half of fiscal year 2015. IBM’s robust data and analytics capabilities—along with partnerships with companies like Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and more—are helping the brand to reassert its prowess.
For IBM, Watson may be the key differentiator—the defining technology that sets the global brand apart from a myriad of competing innovators.